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Is It True That Male Cats Kill Kittens? The Brutal Truth Explained

If you’ve heard that male cats might sometimes harm or kill kittens, you’re likely reading this now to see if there is any truth to it. This is particularly critical if you have a male cat and are thinking of adopting a kitten.

Unfortunately, this is a brutal truth to hear. While it isn’t terribly common, male cats have been known to kill kittens they haven’t fathered.

We’ll get into the reasons why a male cat might hurt a kitten and any other different reactions they might have towards a kitten. In the end, it’s best to have as much information as possible, so you are better prepared to keep your kitten safe.

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Why Would a Male Cat Hurt or Kill a Kitten?

It’s not uncommon to see cats of either gender showing aggression or fighting, which is typically based on territoriality. This is part of the reason why a male cat might attempt to harm a kitten.

If you’ve ever watched nature shows and have seen male lions killing lion cubs, this is similar behavior to how the male cat might react to kittens.

This aggressive behavior is more likely to occur with feral cats and not generally domesticated cats. If you have a male cat that isn’t especially territorial, then a kitten might be safe. But there are no guarantees.

a tabby mackerel cat hissing
Image Credit: strh, Pixabay

Reasons Why a Male Cat Might Harm a Kitten

As we mentioned, feral cats are more likely to attack a kitten, and there are several reasons for this:

  • Hunting Instincts: Unlike domestic cats, feral cats must hunt to survive, so they have a strong hunting instinct. Unfortunately, a tiny kitten can appear as prey, and the male cat’s instincts might kick in.
  • Competition: A kitten entering a male cat’s territory can be seen as competition for food as well as for female cats.
  • Evolution: Killing the offspring of a rival male cat can encourage the mother to become fertile more quickly. This will allow the male to mate with her to produce his own offspring. Additionally, killing another male cat’s kittens can ensure his own kittens will survive.
  • Territory: We’ve already mentioned this one, and it can be one of the more common reasons. Whether a kitten wanders into a male cat’s territory or you bring a kitten into your male cat’s home, they might attack the kitten to defend their territory.
  • Rough Play: In some cases, it might not necessarily be aggression, but a cat that plays too roughly with a small kitten. The cat could accidentally cause harm.

This is not to say most feral cats resort to aggression – some will even help to take care of kittens in their colony. It can even just come from each cat’s specific temperament.

Cats already nervous or aggressive around other cats will also be likely to show aggression toward kittens, while other toms have a more nurturing temperament.

Do Female Cats Kill Kittens?

Unfortunately, this is also something that can occur, although it is quite rare. The most common reason a mother cat will kill her kittens is that she senses something is wrong with one or more of her young.

This could be an illness or some kind of genetic abnormality. It’s thought that the mother might view this kitten as a risk for herself or the rest of her kittens.

Another reason why a mother cat might harm her kittens is stress. This is more likely to happen with first-time mothers or if they give birth in a stressful environment. It’s also been known to happen if her kittens are handled too often by humans.

But again, we must stress that this is a very rare occurrence. Most mother cats take very good care of their young.

kittens in the grass with their mother
Image Credit: Petrik Ondrej, Shutterstock

Can Male Cats Take Care of Kittens?

There have been many cases of adult male cats taking care of kittens that are not their own. This isn’t typical behavior in feral colonies since taking care of the young fall to the female cats, usually related to female cats.

Feral tomcats don’t typically work on raising or protecting their own kittens since they are busy breeding and marking their territory.

But domesticated males, particularly if they are neutered, are much more likely to be protective and affectionate towards kittens. Domestic males can be more relaxed and even playful with kittens without the need to hunt or advance their genetics into future lines.

And then there are cases of male cats taking on a mothering role, like Henry, an 8-month-old ginger tabby. Henry took care of six kittens found abandoned in a box on the side of the road in Ketchikan, Alaska – Henry helped to save those kitten’s lives!

How Do Most Male Cats Respond to Kittens?

For the most part, the average male cat will ignore or just show general disinterest in kittens. But as we discussed earlier, others will show their paternal side and spend time playing with and grooming the kittens.

And again, how they respond to any kittens depends on their temperament and whether they are neutered or not.

Neutering a cat can make a world of difference in how they respond not just to kittens but to any cat as well as their owner. The instinct to dominate and defend their territory is much higher for an intact male.

The hormone levels in a neutered cat are much lower, and they tend to be calmer around other cats.

That being said, there is still the possibility of a neutered male attacking a kitten. Being neutered doesn’t completely take aggression out of the equation.

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How Do You Protect Kittens from Harm? 4 Effective Ways

As we’ve said a number of times already, it’s not as likely for a domestic male cat to harm a kitten. But it’s still vital to take steps, nonetheless.

1. Neuter Your Cat

If you have an intact male cat and plan to bring young kittens into your home, consider having your cat neutered. This should help to reduce any aggressive behaviors towards your kittens.

neutering cat on a vet's operating table
Image Credit: Simon Kadula, Shutterstock
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2. Separate Them

Give your kittens their own space that your male cat doesn’t have access to. If your male cat is calm and affectionate, you can try introducing them. But any time spent together should always be supervised and limited.

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3. Create Barriers

In some cases, you might need to create barriers so your male cat can’t reach the kittens in any way. This is especially crucial if the male is unneutered. Maybe it isn’t in your budget to have them neutered, or they are being used for breeding.

You could invest in a pet gate with the kittens in a safe room or place your kittens in a playpen (although it will need a cover of some kind since an adult cat could easily jump in).

There are also cat deterrent sprays you can use around any entrances into the kittens’ room but try not to spray too close to the kittens. They might be put off by the scent as well.

cat trying to climb over the fence
Image Credit: Kalo Kanev, Shutterstock
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4. Wait Until They Are Older

Again, depending on the male cat, it’s best to keep young kittens away from them. Typically it’s safer when the kittens are about three or four weeks old to be introduced to the male.

And just like any introduction between two animals, it might take about one to two weeks for the adult cat to become accustomed to the kitten.

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Remember that male cats, or cats in general, are not bad or evil. Everything they do depends on their instincts and their evolutionary behaviors. As much as we anthropomorphize our cats, they are still animals with natural instincts that kick in when triggered.

Many male cats are quite loving and gentle and would be wonderful with newborn kittens. But it’s always best to be safe than sorry. Be sure to keep them under constant supervision. Some cats might play a little roughly and accidentally injure a kitten.

Consider speaking to your vet as well before any introductions. They can help you through the process, as the most important thing is to keep everyone safe.

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Featured Image Credit: rihaij, Pixabay